Buyers want luxury on a budget



Maybe we’ve all been watching too much Home & Garden Television lately. Shows such as “House Hunters,” “Love It or List It” and “Property Brothers” have given couch potatoes (or “sofa social scientists,” as we in lifestyle trade like to say) the impression that luxury amenities, such as granite and marble, stainless steel, deep crown moldings, paver driveways, hardwood floors, chandeliers and such, ought to be available to the home buyer with a budget of less than $300,000.


And guess what? They are. Home builders are responding to the aspirational expectations of both first-time and veteran buyers who want sophisticated touches that make them feel richer than they are.

grandoaks2One of these developers is Steve Brown of Heritage Builders, a U.S. Assets Group Community. Within a 15-acre enclave of 55 single-family homes called Grand Oaks, Brown is promising glamorous elements that are standard in dwellings starting in the high $200,000s.

The gated community is on East Venice Avenue, about three miles from the heart of the city and the beach. The community includes a clubhouse and expensive-looking perimeter landscaping. There is a homeowners’ association. Six different elevations are available to buyers.

Models at Grand Oaks range in size from 1,865 square feet of living space to just about 2,000 square feet. Additionally, they all have at least 208 square feet of outdoor living space. Prices range from $288,900 to $294,000 for the standard package without upgrades. The standard package is impressive.

Expect granite counters in the kitchen and bath; undermount sinks; a walk-in, glass-enclosed shower in the master bath; custom American-made wood cabinets; stainless-steel appliances; tray ceilings in the bedroom, living room and dining area; 8-foot raised-panel interior doors throughout; fully pocketed sliding doors that open the living room to lanai; deep baseboards; tile roof; and paver driveway. The list goes on.

Brown and his team, including interior designer Lori Fountain, have focused on some of features that were showcased at the Best in American Living Awards Design Trends at the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas earlier this year. Must-haves include specialty lighting, bigger laundry rooms, extra large farmhouse kitchen sink, and luxury touches that make homeowners feel they are living in a four-star resort. The biggest trend continues to be en-suite bedrooms throughout the house with double vanities in the connecting master bath and a huge walk-in shower.

A lot of the high-end features at Grand Oaks are the result of persistent and expert scouting by Fountain, a designer with 35 years of experience in residential and commercial interior design. She is based in Sarasota but works all over the country. With plenty of projects from private clients, Fountain was initially reluctant to furnish model homes in Brown’s price range, and less enthusiastic about putting together the collections, from cabinet pulls to granite, to cabinetry, that buyers would choose from when personalizing their homes.

“Frankly, it’s been many years since I did model homes in that price range,” said Fountain. “I didn’t know how much use I’d be to Steve, but I agreed to do it because I’ve enjoyed a long working relationship with his father,” Tom Brown.

“I was confident about the level of quality and design detail they were committed to, and for me the process evolved into a professional challenge to find reasonably priced things that looked and functioned at a high level.”

Over the years, Fountain has been the designer for Tom Brown-Jay Tallman U.S. Assets Group projects, including En Provence, Orchid Beach Club and The Founders Club.

“With a considerable amount of research and comparison shopping, a lot of it at the High Point Furniture Market, I’ve sourced a collection of choices that’s really good,” said Fountain. “And I was able to use mostly made-in-America products, and one or two that are made right here in Florida.

“The cabinets are all custom-made solid wood, and buyers can choose among many styles and finishes. And the refrigerator doesn’t stick out into the kitchen; it’s nicely framed out and recedes into the wall. All the door hinges on the interior doors are stainless steel. Nice attention to quality details. That’s typical of the whole collection.”

Before the Parade of Homes, Brown had sold 12 homes, mostly to downsizing couples who already live in the area, and to snowbirds who want a private seasonal home that’s not a condominium. Grand Oaks is not on the Gulf, the lots are small and the homes are close together. The neighborhood doesn’t have the urban buzz to attract young professionals, and the size of the homes argues against families with school-aged children.

The development is aimed at discerning buyers in a specific demographic with limited budgets. Within that niche, Brown is finding success. And probably more to come because when the judging took place after the recent Parade of Homes, the Valencia model at Grand Oaks won Best Master Suite for its size and price point.

The Sabal model won Best Curb Appeal, Best Kitchen, Best Floorplan and Best Architectural Detail. The model was also named the overall winner for its size and price point.



Marsha Fottler

Marsha Fottler has been a newspaper and magazine lifestyle, food and design writer since 1968 first in Boston and in Florida since 1970. She contributes to regional and national publications and she is co-publisher and editor of a monthly online magazine that celebrates the pleasures of the table called Flavors & More. (941) 371-8593.
Last modified: March 22, 2014
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